As 2011 draws to a close, we look back at the ten most significant developments in politics/government in Illinois. Previously, we covered the state’s troubled college tuition fund, efforts to expand gambling in Illinois, and the repeal of the state’s death penalty.
The countdown continues…
7) Civil Unions OK’d
In June, Illinois became the sixth state to allow same-sex couples to enter into civil unions (five other states allow gay marriage).
In the first six months of the new law, the group Equality Illinois reported, 3,729 couples got civil union licenses, with Cook County accounting for almost exactly half. 17% of licenses were issued by the so-called “collar counties” around Chicago. In 12 of the state’s 102 counties, clerks told Equality Illinois no licenses had been issued.
Is gay marriage on the horizon? Probably not soon. A Tribune poll done in August found public opinion in Chicago and surrounding counties— the most liberal part of the state— was split evenly (42%-42%) on the question of allowing gay marriage.
6) Blagojevich gets hard time
Jurors found former Governor Rod Blagojevich guilty— again— in late June. And on Pearl Harbor Day, Judge James Zagel gave the Governor-Who-Will-Live-in-Infamy a 14-year prison term.
Some man-on-the-street reaction decried the sentence as too harsh, pointing to murderers who had gotten less time.
Judge Zagel, though, pointed out that lesser corruption sentences did little to deter. Indeed, Blagojevich was launching his corrupt schemes even as he was cheering the 6 ½-year sentence handed down in the corruption case of his predecessor, George Ryan.
5) Pension reform, partial at best
In October, the Tribune— long a fount of outrage about the under-funding of pensions for Illinois’ public workers— uncovered some ridiculously outrageous pension abuse in Chicago.
Union leaders have been allowed to collect big public-dollar pensions, along with retirement money from their union jobs. Labor officials who’d worked low-wage city jobs in the distant past have collected city pensions based on their much-higher union salaries.
The examples were colorful, and stomach-turning:
- Cement workers union boss, Al Naimoli, whose long-ago city salary topped out at $15,000, collects a city pension of $158,000
- Union boss Dennis Gannon collects a $158,000 city pension on the strength of a single day’s work for Streets and Sanitation.
- A pair of teachers’ union lobbyists qualified for pensions, based on single days of substitute teaching.
Chicago pension watchdogs tried to blame state lawmakers for not prohibiting such arrangements more explicitly, though they’d pretty clearly played the role of foxes guarding the henhouse.
State lawmakers, in any case, close the worst of the loopholes, but left the bigger and tougher problem of underfunded pensions for another day. A report by the Pew Center on the States described the crisis this way:
“With only 54 percent of the state’s pension liability funded—well below the 80 percent benchmark that the U.S. Government Accountability Office says is preferred by experts—Illinois ranks last in the country in terms of what it has set aside to fund this bill coming due. The total unfunded pension liability—$54.4 billion—is more than three times as large as the payroll for members of the state’s pension plans. The Prairie State has consistently failed to meet the annual actuarially required contribution, paying less than 60 percent of the required amount in each year since 2005.”